Safeguarding W.Va. Children

Sex crimes against children rightly infuriate and sadden almost all West Virginians. The tiny minority of perverted predators among us takes a terrible toll.

That makes a recommendation by a panel of state legislators appealing. Last week, the Legislature’s Select Committee on Crimes Against Children recommended hiring 50 new state troopers to go after those who victimize children sexually.

Where their fellow lawmakers will find the money to do that – an estimated $5.7 million a year – certainly is a question. The state is having increasing difficulty paying its existing bills.

Still, because the idea is so appealing, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislators may find some method of paying for it.

Committee members also want to increase penalties for some sex crimes. Two suggestions were to stiffen punishment for those who view child pornography and to prohibit child visitation by people convicted of sexual assault.

While the committee’s proposals sound good, they should be expanded.

Mountain State children certainly suffer terribly at the hands of sex predators. But they are also harmed – in the hundreds each year – by abuse and neglect not related to sex. Often, the crimes are committed by family members.

During 2011, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the rate of child abuse and neglect in West Virginia was 16.4 per 1,000 children under age 18, according to the Kids Count organization.

More needs to be done to help these children, too. Officials and case workers in the state Child Protective Services agency no doubt would agree.

So if money for additional work can be found, by all means improve the safety net for West Virginia’s children. But do so in a comprehensive manner, not just to safeguard them from sex predators.